Almost 16,000 Belgians on the World’s biggest black list

The Flemish business daily ‘De Tijd’ is among a number of international media that have published articles this weekend about World-Check. World-Check is a database of so-called “Politically Exposed Persons” and heightened risk individuals.

The organisation is used around the world to help to identify and manage financial, regulatory and reputational risk. As such it is the biggest black list in the world. Around 16,000 Belgians appear on the list, quiet a number of them wrongly or on the basis on inaccurate information. Being branded a risk by World-Check can have negative consequences without you even realising it.

The British whistle-blower Chris Vickery was able to obtain a 2014 version of the World-Check list. Journalists in 6 countries examined the list over a period of 5 months.

‘De Tijd’, ‘The Times’ (GB), ‘The Intercept’(USA), NPO Radio 1 (NL), La Republicca (I), NRD/Süddeutsche Zeitung (D), have all published/broadcast pieces about World-Check today.

Anyone that is named as a risk on the World-Check database risks being black-listed by 6,000 big banks, companies and public services without them even knowing.

In Belgium big High Street banks such as KBC, BNP-Paribas Fortis, Belfius and ING have confirmed that they screen their customer data based on information gained from World-Check.

De Tijd looked at the data related to 15,833 Belgians on the World-Check black list. The paper comes to the conclusion that a lot of people have been branded a risk unfairly.

The sources used by World-Check are not always accurate. A quarter of the names come from official sanctioning lists. However, the rest are taken from more than 100,000 other “news sources”.

De Tijd concludes that the database is anything but accurate, complete and up-to-date.

Not everyone on the terrorism list is a terrorist or a terrorist suspect

At the end of 2014 346 people in Belgium appeared on the World-Check database in the “terrorism” category. However, this included people that had been suspects, but had never been charged or cleared of any charges laid against them.

The League of Belgian Muslims, an organisation that has for many years condemned violence and describes terrorist attacks as “barbaric” also appears on the list in the “terrorism” category. World-Check provides no evidence to link the organisation to terrorism.

Two of the links cited as the reason for the League of Belgian Muslims appearing on the list have been taken off line and a third article relates to a charter calling for all Muslims to strive for peace and prosperity that the League signed up to.

How do organisations and individuals remain on the list

There are also concerns about how long names remain on the list. 238 people in Belgium appear in the fiscal fraud category. They include the former Belgian international goalkeeper Jean-Marie Pfaff and his wife Carmen.

They were once the subject of a tax-evasion investigation, but settled out of court. The television producer Wouter Vandenhautte also appears despite him having been given discharges in court cases brought against him for fiscal fraud in 2010 and 2012.

The former Belgian Minister and NATO Secretary General Willy Claes also appears on the 2014 list, almost 20 years after the Agusta affair that led to his downfall.

“Politically-sensitive persons”

6.565 Belgian are categorised as being “politically-sensitive” persons. In addition to almost everyone that has political mandate there are many children, (ex) partners, brothers, sisters, parents and other family members that appear on the list.

These include the children of the leader of the Liberal Group in the European Parliament Guy Verhofstadt and the children of the Justice Minister Koen Geens (Flemish Christian democrat).

The illegitimate daughter of King Albert II, Delphine Boël also appears on the list.

Privacy Commission to ask the banks for an explanation

‘De Tijd’ put its findings to the Belgian Privacy Commission. The Commission’s Chairman Willem Debeuckelaere said that he definitely intends to discuss the issue with the banks”.

"As the banks should inform their customers that the use World-Check, as they are using data that doesn’t come from the customers, but from a third party”.

Mr Debeuckelaere adds that people should be able to object to their inclusion on the list and to ask for information to be modified or corrected. World-Check should also be made to delete inaccurate data.